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FASEB J. 2011 Mar;25(3):1014-27. doi: 10.1096/fj.10-168492. Epub 2010 Dec 16.

D-Aspartic acid is a novel endogenous neurotransmitter.

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Departament de Genètica, Institut de Biomedicina, Facultat de Biologia, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain.


D-aspartic acid (D-Asp) is present in invertebrate and vertebrate neuroendocrine tissues, where it carries out important physiological functions and is implicated in nervous system development. We show here that D-Asp is a novel endogenous neurotransmitter in two distantly related animals, a mammal (Rattus norvegicus) and a mollusk (Loligo vulgaris). Our main findings demonstrate that D-Asp is present in high concentrations in the synaptic vesicles of axon terminals; synthesis for this amino acid occurs in neurons by conversion of L-Asp to D-Asp via D-aspartate racemase; depolarization of nerve endings with K(+) ions evokes an immediate release of D-Asp in a Ca(2+) dependent manner; specific receptors for D-Asp occur at the postsynaptic membrane, as demonstrated by binding assays and by the expansion of squid skin chromatophores; D-aspartate oxidase, the specific enzyme that oxidizes D-Asp, is present in the postsynaptic membranes; and stimulation of nerve endings with D-Asp triggers signal transduction by increasing the second messenger cAMP. Taken together, these data demonstrate that D-Asp fulfills all criteria necessary to be considered a novel endogenous neurotransmitter. Given its known role in neurogenesis, learning, and neuropathologies, our results have important implications for biomedical and clinical research.

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